COMMENTARY | Besides detailing his cocaine and alcohol binge the night the New York Mets won the 1986 World Series, eventually leading to his absence from the team's parade down the Canyon of Heroes, Dwight Gooden dedicates space in his latest memoir to former New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who Gooden describes as instrumental in turning the former pitcher's life around.
In the soon-to-be-released "Doc: A Memoir," Gooden credits sportswriter Bob Klapisch with putting the pitcher in touch with former Yankees employee Ray Negron, the man Gooden partially credits with helping him get off drugs and alcohol, and getting him a meeting with Steinbrenner one year after being suspended from baseball.
After the Seattle Mariners knocked the Yankees out of the 1995 playoffs, Negron arranged for Gooden to have dinner with Steinbrenner - Negron's old boss - and Yankees pitching coach Billy Connors at a Tampa steakhouse. (Prior to the dinner, Gooden was contemplating pitching in Japan because of the lack of interest by other major league clubs.)
"For years, I'd heard stories about what a hard-ass the Yankees boss was," Gooden writes. But one day after the dinner, Gooden signed with the Yankees. At Steinbrenner's Tampa hotel, Steinbrenner offered Gooden a 1-year deal with options for a second and third year.
"Right there at the table, I agreed," writes Gooden.
"George looked at me and said, 'I know you've had a great career so far. I think you'll also have a great career with us,'" Gooden recalls. "'I think you're right,' I said. 'Yes, sir.'"
In what would be his first of two stints with the Yankees, Gooden would go 20-12 with a 4.97 ERA, pitch an improbable no-hitter, and often find ways to win despite giving up nearly fives a game. He did not pitch in the 1996 postseason, but did start Game 4 of the 1997 American League Division Series against the Cleveland Indians, giving up five hits and one earned run over five and two-third innings in a game the Yankees would eventually lose.
Throughout his latest memoir (He also wrote "Heat" with Klapisch in 1999), Gooden lavishes praise on Steinbrenner for pushing mandatory drug testing throughout baseball as well being there and believing in Gooden when others didn't. He also describes a gentler side of Steinbrenner, such as when The Boss pushed aside a day of meetings to spend time at the bedside of Gooden's dying father.
Gooden also credits the Yankees with giving up a chance to finish his career in New York.
Nearly one month after being released by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in May 2000, Steinbrenner again gave Gooden a chance to pitch in the major leagues.
In his second stint with the Yankees, Gooden went 4-2 with a 3.36 ERA in 18 games, including 5 starts. He faltered in his only appearance in the American League Division Series against the Oakland Athletics that postseason, but finished out his career by throwing two and one-third scoreless innings against the Seattle Mariners in the American League Championship Series.
"Doc: A Memoir" was written with journalist Ellis Henican and his set to hit bookstores on June 4. Excerpts of the book, however, have already been posted on Amazon.com.
Howard Z. Unger is a freelance journalist in Brooklyn, New York. For the past 15 years, he has written about sports, media, and popular culture. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, New York Post, and New York Times.
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